Why I’m Voting for Oscar de la Torre for City Council

Editor:

After living abroad in both Mexico City and South Korea, I returned to Santa Monica in 2011. –I had lived in Santa Monica off and on since moving to southern California years back to attend college (UCLA) when I was 18.  The truth of the matter is however, my connection to Santa Monica began far sooner than when I became a Bruin.

I was born and raised in the Bay Area but I have been connected to Santa Monica since  childhood. I have family (mom’s side) that was born and raised in our City: some in the Pico neighborhood, some in the MidCity neighborhood. As a kid I used to take summer trips with my grandmother to Santa Monica (who also lived in the Bay Area) and spent time with my cousins.  Those summer trips are some of my fondest childhood memories: seashell collecting at Santa Monica beach, community swim at Santa Monica College, and of course the incomparable Santa Monica Pier.

Our family is very close knit, so when we learned of allegations that one of my cousins—along with other children of color—- was being unfairly treated by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and the Santa Monica Police Department due to his Latino heritage, it was both painful and disturbing to say the least. The unfair treatment led my aunt to become a leader with the community group, Mothers For Justice. According to the minutes for the October 17, 2002, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District meeting, Mothers for Justice submitted a report with respect to the matter: “Unfortunately, we live in a society where more affluent residents receive better treatment from the public school system than residents who are deemed lower income. What makes matters more complicated is that ethnicity and income are so strongly correlated in Santa Monica. Youth of color who reside in Santa Monica’s Pico Neighborhood are constantly targeted by school administrators and police for suspensions, expulsions, probation and incarceration (SMMUSD minutes 10/2/2002)”

Mothers for Justice was a grassroots organization comprised of moms who loved their kids and wanted what every mom in Santa Monica wants for their children: happiness and success. But the policies and practices of Santa Monica public policy — whether intentional or not — was resulting in students of color to be disproportionately punished when compared to their white counterparts. Out from this inequity rose a grassroots leader who used his time, talent, education, and passion to help give rise to the voices of Mothers for Justice: Oscar de la Torre.

A lifelong resident of the Pico Neighborhood, Oscar fought for the moms and children of the Mothers for Justice both in the school district and at City Hall. Throughout the years — even in the midst of of both controversy and adversity — he has continued to fight for the marginalized in our City. From his founding of and executive leadership on the Pico Youth and Family Center to his public service for the past 14 years on the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District school board, Oscar has demonstrated leadership and conviction even in the midst of great opposition.

Although we like to think issues of race are a bygone of our Santa Monica community, recent events remind us that we still have a long way to go: from corporate executive Faye Wells whose white neighbor called the police on her because he thought a black woman entering an apartment (her home) in Santa Monica was suspicious … to father of four Justin Palmer who was pepper-sprayed in Virginia Avenue Park while charging his electric vehicle … we know that race is still a significant issue in our community.

Confronting issues pertaining to race, inequality, and abuse of power are difficult in any community; Santa Monica is no exception.

We need Oscar on the dais because he represents a constituency in Santa Monica that has been systematically silenced. His background and experience in both education and on social issues will — like the Mothers for Justice — bring a voice to voiceless. It will help shed light on a host of other public policy issues that our City Council formulates including the ever-before-us issue of development. With the continuous rise of evictions of low-income tenants and the City-wide spread of gentrification, we need a representative on the Council who not only will fight for and remember senior citizens, the disabled, people of color, and other marginalized groups in our City, but who also grew-up from amongst them.

Last week was the dedication of the 26th Street Expo Line to private Joe Gandara, a Santa Monica native who fought and died in World War II in protection of his comrades, but because of his Mexican heritage, was overlooked for medals: he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama in 2014.

In the course of my advocacy for the Gandara family, I had the honor and privilege of meeting Ms. Modesta Gandara, herself also a Santa Monica native, and whose late-daughter was a much beloved employee and union leader with the City of Santa Monica. One of the most powerful things I remember Ms. Gandara telling me was that when she was growing up in Santa Monica, residents of Mexican heritage were not even ALLOWED on the North of Montana side of town. Ms. Gandara turned 89 years old last Friday, the day of the Gandara dedication.

Please join me in voting for Oscar de la Torre to the Santa Monica City Council: because for too long mothers, fathers, and children of color have not been allowed in our City. For too long, the Pico neighborhood has been disproportionately and adversely impacted in our community. For too long, we have fallen short in the manifestation of the promise of our nation: that the color of your skin; nor your socio-economic background; nor the neighborhood you grew-up in … should ever be an impediment to having a voice in our democracy: most especially in one of greatest cities of the greatest nation on earth.

 

David Whatley Zepeda

Santa Monica